How to pack for an international move

You’ve decided to up sticks and move to a different country. Congratulations! You’re about to enter a period in your life that’s both very exciting but also very stressful. To make things feel more manageable, we’ve put together this guide on packing for your move. From picking the right type of box, through to creating a spreadsheet that will keep track of them, this article will help you to master the international moving process.

Before we begin, it’s important to note that many international removals companies won’t insure items that you pack away yourself. If you haven’t already, you should decide on the company you’re going to use before you begin the packing process. Assuming you’ve already done this and decided to pack the majority of your items yourself, let’s get started.

You’ll need:

  • Strong, double wall cardboard boxes
  • Smaller boxes to help organise your belongings
  • Tape: strong, very sticky and in a mixture of normal and ‘fragile’ print
  • Tape dispenser/gun
  • Marker pens for labelling your boxes
  • Packing paper and bubble wrap for fragile items
  • Silica gel sachets
  • Patience

1. Choose the right boxes for your move


The boxes you buy will have to withstand travelling across the globe, potentially via various modes of transport. They may also be moved multiple times during the journey. For these reasons, it’s crucial that you purchase only double wall boxes for your move, as they’re physically stronger than their single wall counterparts and offer the extra protection you need.

For even better durability, you can buy double wall, full overlap cardboard boxes. These boxes don’t rely on sellotape to hold them together and have a reinforced base, making them perfect for heavy items like books and crockery.


Most of your moving boxes should fall under the ‘medium’ size category. There’s a temptation to go as big as possible but you (and your removals company) need to be able to move and stack the boxes safely. Medium boxes are sturdier and also make it more difficult to pack a box that’s too heavy.

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule: Larger boxes are perfect for light, bulky items like cushions or stuffed toys.

Use small boxes and containers for organisation

Small cardboard boxes and other containers can help you to utilise your packing space much more effectively. For example, you can save shoe boxes to separate and protect your footwear before putting them into a larger box– this means that they won’t crush each other in transit. The same goes for any other miscellaneous items that may otherwise be unsuitable for being placed directly into a large box.

Friends, family and colleagues are great sources of small boxes. Online deliveries, product packaging, and even wine boxes make perfect containers for organisation.

2. Keep track of your moving boxes with a simple numbering system

You should, without fail, number every single box that you pack, and keep a running document that outlines the contents of each one. This may sound tedious, but there’s nothing more frustrating than moving and then not knowing where to quickly find the items that you need once you’ve relocated.

You can create your tracking document anywhere: Google Drive, a Notes document on your mobile, or via a specialised app. You need to be able to quickly search through your items, so make sure the software you use has a ‘Find’ function. It should also have an offline mode, so that you don’t have to worry about locating a wi-fi connection when you need it the most.

Box 1

Medium cardboard box with handles

Kitchen items, including:
Tin opener
Chopping board
Bowls we use frequently

Box 39

Small cardboard box – no handles

Office items, including:
2020 diary
Paper clips
Hole punch

In the example above, you can see that each tab includes the box number and a description of the physical appearance of the box itself. If you use a selection of different box types, it will make your life easier to know which type of box you should be looking for. Each tab also includes a general overview of the box contents and then a break down of the contents within.

When numbering your boxes, make sure that you write the number on every side of the box in big, clear lettering. When they’re stacked at your new location, you won’t have to waste time and energy rotating boxes just to find out what number they are— you’ll be able identify each box at a glance.

3. Pack carefully to avoid damage during your international move

Full boxes are happy boxes

Always avoid large, empty spaces in your boxes. First of all, empty spaces create weak points when it comes to stacking, making it more likely that they will be crushed in transit. Furthermore, none of your items should be able to roll around freely inside of a box.

Think of packing like a game of Tetris, where you aim to carefully organise your items so that they fit and fill the space perfectly. Using smaller boxes, as explained earlier, is a great way of achieving this. If all else fails, you can use soft items, scrunched up paper, or bubble wrap to fill any gaps.

Bubble wrap and packing paper

You’ll notice that most bubble wrap comes with a flat side and a bubbly side. The side with the bubbles should be touching your item, whilst the flat side should be facing outwards. Use multiple layers of wrap to increase the amount of protection provided, and make sure that you use tape to secure everything— you don’t want the wrap to unravel during transit. Bubble wrap is your best bet where heavy duty protection is required.

Like bubble wrap, packing paper is another useful way of protecting your items during the move. You can scrunch up pieces and use it as padding in your boxes, as well as a material for wrapping. Unlike bubble wrap, packing paper takes up less space and allows you to stack items, like plates, without them being scratched. For this reason, it’s a good solution for kitchen items. You can also use it for wrapping valuable books or any other items that aren’t significantly fragile but would benefit from an extra protective layer during transit.

Use silica gel sachets to protect electronics

Silica gel packets are used for soaking up moisture from the surrounding air. I always have a pack of these on hand for rescuing items after accidental spillages in the home, but they’re equally useful for preventative care during your move. When packing electronics, throw a silica gel sachet or two into the container and make sure that it is as air tight as possible before packing it away. You can also place them in your shoe boxes or clothing containers to make sure that rogue moisture doesn’t have a chance to damage the items before you’re ready to unpack.

Pack liquid items carefully

It’s best to try and use, sell or donate liquid items before you move. If you do have some you would like to hang on to, however, the last thing you want is for those liquids to spill or break during transit and ruin the rest of your belongings. The first port of call, therefore, is to place each item in a plastic bag (that you can recycle or reuse later). Even better, is to then transport the items in tightly-sealed plastic containers, as opposed to your standard cardboard box. Once the move is over, you can repurpose the boxes for general storage around the home.

4. Be ruthless: now is a good time to detox your belongings

Not only will it cost more to move a larger amount of items, but it will weigh less heavily on your mind if you use this opportunity to donate or sell anything that you’re not making use of. Here are a few questions you should ask yourself:

  • Will this electrical item work in my new country? Domestic voltages and frequencies vary across the world and accommodating these differences may be tedious or potentially expensive. Do your homework before moving with electrical items.
  • Would it be easier to sell these items now and buy them again in my destination country? Moving your belongings internationally is expensive and the more things you have, the more space you’ll need in a lorry or a ship. Weigh up the cost of selling and repurchasing large pieces of furniture, white goods or bulky items like beds and cabinets.
  • Have I used this item in the last 12 months? In the space of year, you’re likely to experience all four seasons, and most other situations that may require context-specific items. If you haven’t used or thought about an item in a year, it’s probably time to consider selling, donating, or recycling it.

Ultimately, remaining organised and patient is going to make your international move significantly easier. Make sure you begin packing well in advance of your moving date, have all of your equipment ready, and don’t rush the process.

Good luck!

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